How to balance work and study

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
December, 2021

The rising cost of university means that students are turning to part-time work to pay the bills - discover how to hold down a job without letting your degree suffer

Money is a concern for most students - three-quarters (76%) of respondents to the Student Money Survey 2021 said they were worried about how they'd make ends meet while at university. In fact, the same number had even considered dropping out of university at some point - although this was against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

It's therefore unsurprising to discover that two-thirds (66%) of the students questioned worked a part-time job to fund their studies and get by.

If you're trying to decide if getting a job is the right move for you, consider the following benefits of working part time and whether it would fit in with your study schedule.

Benefit from part-time work

While many students work to top up their loans and earn spare cash, that's not the sole benefit of finding a part-time job.

'Having a part-time job was beneficial on many levels. Earning my own money was so rewarding, and the skills that I developed have really helped to enhance my CV,' says Caitlin Edwards, a consumer behaviour and marketing graduate from the University of Reading.

Caitlin worked part-time as an HR administration assistant and bar assistant alongside her degree during her fourth year at university. 'The colleagues you meet in your role may even become your lifelong friends. I cannot recommend getting a part-time job enough.'

It's not just students who recommend taking up some form of part-time work at university. 'Even if a student is financially secure enough not to need to work during their studies, we still suggest working part time or volunteering, as good-quality work experience is so important,' says Jay Russell, campus jobs manager at the University of Reading.

Consider your schedule

Before applying for any part-time job, you should first think about your timetable. 'Shops are busiest in November and December, and you may be given lots of extra shifts,' Jay explains. 'This could be perfect for you - but not if you have lots of essays due or exams to revise for.'

Be honest about the amount of work you can take on. Employers needing staff to cover shifts during term time often take advantage of eager students who need the money, and will often expect part-time employees to be flexible and work more hours during busy periods. Even if you're willing to do this, highlight when your lectures and seminars are, as well as coursework deadlines and exams.

While it's important to be careful when taking on extra responsibilities, part-time work can be a great addition to your schedule - motivating you to stay productive throughout the day. For instance, if you have a shift in the afternoon or evening, you'll need to wake up earlier to study in the morning.

Plan your time effectively

Taking on the extra responsibility of a part-time job won't make excelling in your degree impossible, but you'll need to be highly organised and have good time management to make it happen.

Also, don't try to stay on top of your workload by memory alone. Invest in a diary or planner and write down all shifts, lectures, seminars and outside commitments, as visual representation of your time helps you to stay organised and fit everything in.

If you ever do find that you're working too much, Jay advises that you talk to your manager and ask whether it's possible to reduce your hours. 'Ultimately, your health, wellbeing and degree should come first,' he insists.

Should you ever be feeling the strain, see our ways to manage student stress and the importance of looking after your mental health at university.

Tailor your job application

Working part-time throughout your studies equips you with the transferable skills employers are looking for, so it's important to highlight these in your CV and cover letter.

In whatever role you choose, it's likely you'll develop teamwork, problem solving, time management and communication skills - all of which will boost your graduate career prospects.

Make sure your application is tailored to the job you're applying for. In your cover letter, explain how you'll put the skills you've developed into practice. Employers at a bar or café won't want to hear about the specific modules in your biomedical sciences degree - but they will be interested to hear how your degree has improved your ability to motivate yourself and work as part of a team, for example.

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